Clock Ticks For Albania to Pass EU Reforms

Balkan Insight
Fecha de publicación: 
27 Mayo 2016

The deadline for Albania to complete judicial reforms needed to open European Union accession negotiations is close to expiring, with only one month left before the constitutional changes required for the reform can pass through parliament.

June is last month when parliament - before the recess in July - can vote to pass the amendments that require 93 out of 140 MPs to vote and so open the way for EU bodies to assess Albania's request to open membership negotiation.

However, the political situation remains in deadlock.

Although a cross-party "ad hoc" parliamentary commission in mid-May started to pass the first amendment on changes regarding the Prosecution, Constitutional and District courts, the consensus broke down on May 18, when the main opposition Democratic Party presented a new draft to the commission.

This seeks the scrapping of four of the 11 planned new justice institutions that are projected in the reform, under the argument that the structure of the justice system needs to be simpler.

This sudden twist in the negotiation process was condemned by the ruling Socialist Party, which called the proposed changes a move to derail the reform.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister and Socialist leader Edi Rama on Top Channel TV complained of "a big lack of responsibility in bringing in a new draft after we worked on one for a year that has also been confirmed by the Venice Commission.

"I don't mind begging the Democratic Party not to undermine this process and lock Albania in a grey zone that can turn into a black hole in the [EU] integration process," Rama said. 

Passage of the reform is considered crucial for Albania's path to the EU, and has the potential to block the whole process for at least three years.

This is the opinion of EU representatives, reportedly said behind closed doors, as the head of EU delegation in Tirana, Romana Vlahutin, warned on May 5 that: "If this momentum is lost, this country will lose not only one but several years [in the integration process]".

On Thursday, Vlahutin urged Albania's parliament to adopt the reform without losing any more time, "not only because it as an integration mechanism but also because Albanian citizens ask for it".

Gledis Gjipali, director of the European Movement in Albania, told BIRN that the risk of delaying accession negotiations for years because of the lack of the reform is real.

"In a positive scenario [if Albania adopts the reforms on time], the European Commission can give a recommendation up to the end of this year, and the EU Council could give the Commission a mandate to open the negotiations.

"Later, after another positive report, a date to open negotiations can be appointed. So, up to a year-and-a-half are even needed in a positive scenario," he said.

Gjipali warns that if Albania misses the June deadline, it will be difficult to continue the judicial reforms because in spring 2017 the campaign for the next general elections will start.

"We will then have to wait for the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018 to pass the judicial reform. This mean that if we will got a positive recommendation in 2018, we would have to wait for at least another year until the date for opening the negotiations is set," he argued.

Gjipali notes that key EU member states like Germany and France will also have general elections in 2017 - at a time when the forces against EU enlargement are becoming stronger.

Fatjona Mejdini